Experts see one serious rival to Šimonytė: “There is no one like the Prime Minister”

Ingrida Šimonytė
Organizatorių nuotr.

One crisis after another keeps falling on the shoulders of those in power. Some politicians are watching them and not expressing their opinion in public, while others are criticising or even raising the question of the Government’s resignation. The situation is also reflected in the declining ratings of Prime Minister Ingrid Šimonytė – fewer and fewer people would like to see her in the post of Prime Minister. This is the reason for the narrowing gap between her and other politicians. However, one candidate has the experts’ eyes on – apart from Ms Šimonytė, and he is the only one who could take the post of Prime Minister, Andresa Repšytė writing at tv3.lt news portal.

Public opinion polls have been unfavourable to the ruling party and to Šimonytė for several months. Although she is still the number one politician whom the population would like to see as Prime Minister, her circle of sympathisers has fallen by almost four percentage points.

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The Prime Minister is also among the six most unfavoured politicians. 64% of the population has an unfavourable opinion of her, according to a poll published by the news portal Delfi.

Political analysts attribute this to the unprecedented crises that have hit the country in recent years: the pandemic, the migrant crisis, tensions with China over Taiwan, the war in Ukraine, the transit of Kaliningrad and other issues. As a result, decision-makers do not always follow the standard algorithms to solve them, often resorting to approaches that are not to everyone’s liking.

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“Lithuania has never had a term when so many problems have come from outside”, emphasises Gabrielė Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili, a political scientist at Klaipėda University (KU).

“The evaluation of the Prime Minister is linked not only to the work she and the Cabinet of Ministers do but also to the personality of the Prime Minister herself in the public sphere. What is said, how it is said, always has an impact on the rating. We have to agree that Prime Minister Šimonytė’s ratings are not just a reflection of her work. It is a whole complex,” she adds.

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However, political analyst Virgis Valentinavičius sees that unfavourable ratings for the ruling party may not reflect the actual situation.

“In the summer, few people care about politics. A three per cent change is already an indication of something, but the season will start again, and we will see much greater changes one way or another. However, the surprising point is that Šimonytė is leading with three percentage points. As the head of a crisis government, that’s still a pretty good ranking”, he says.

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Communication – Šimonytė’s weakness or strength?

Since the beginning of its mandate, the current Government has been criticised for poor communication. Decisions have often been ironically presented to the public. When the public expressed dissatisfaction with them, they were told: “If people don’t like this government, a new one can be elected in 2024”.

Therefore, according to Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili, some of the internal problems could be avoided through better communication.

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“Or better, clearer, more professional communication to the public of the explanation of the decisions taken. Because that is the decision-maker’s job, the Prime Minister, as the head of the Cabinet of Ministers, takes decisions and is responsible for all decisions. She is like the “roof” of each ministry and each minister. <…> The way a message is conveyed to the public has a powerful influence on the enforceability of a decision. So far, we see that we keep climbing and climbing on the same rake in many areas. Although the situation has improved a little, there are still many problems, and in this area, we need to choose our words more carefully to explain to the public what we are doing,” she stresses.

Mr Valentinavičius does not share this view. According to him, communication is far from being Šimonytė’s weak point.

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“I think that she communicates to the extent that the Prime Minister is responsible. The trouble starts when she needs to communicate for others and take on the sins of other ministers, trying to explain what others should be explaining but are not. I think that Šimonytė’s main focus is on her work, and communication is a secondary issue for her. This is very different from the President’s approach – he spent the first year of his term of office focusing 200% on communication, so there was not much work. Šimonytė’s approach is different. I think that for her, it’s all about the work,” the political scientist points out, adding that

Therefore, according to him, when criticising or praising the Government, it is important to consider not only the communication but also the decisions that are made.

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“The pandemic, the management of the migrant crisis, and the war in Ukraine have all led to very difficult international policy decisions. But criticising them is also difficult. In many cases, it has been a credible, solid policy,” says Valentinavičius.

The narrowing gap between Šimonytė and Skvernelis

Saulius Skvernelis, the former Prime Minister and chairman of the Democratic Union “In the Name of Lithuania”, also enjoys considerable public sympathy. He is behind only Šimonytė.

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According to G. Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili, there are several reasons for his popularity. The first is the concrete presentation of solutions to the population during his term of office.

“Skvernelis, when he was Prime Minister, presented information without irony, which part of the public likes. Saulius Skvernelis is more sympathetic to people who want a straightforward, concrete explanation.

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Another thing to note is that a huge part of the Lithuanian public agrees with the statement that men are better political leaders than women. Therefore, we have to bear in mind that a section of society does not like the current Prime Minister and will not like the current Prime Minister simply because she is a woman. Therefore, if those two candidates were to stand before the elections, a section of society would like to see Mr Skvernelis as Prime Minister simply because he is a man. We have quite a lot of sexism in our community”, she points out.

In public opinion polls, people often choose well-known names. This is also partly responsible for Skvernelis’ popularity – people know what to expect from the former Prime Minister.

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“And there is no one more similar to the Prime Minister in the immediate field of vision,” says Valentinavičius.

Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili echoes him: “Let’s not forget one more important thing. Today, the peasants do not have a clear leader in parliament. This is very bad for them because the candidacy of Saulius Skvernelis is being looked at by both past and present voters of the Peasants and the New Democrats. There is a huge electorate in society that trusts Mr Skerbelis. He should not be underestimated. But that is only because the Peasants do not have a candidate to offer.

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 And despite all the praise, I would put a huge question mark over even the candidates proposed by the Social Democrats. Because, for the time being, Saulius Skvernelis, if we dissociate him from the political force, has also entered their leadership field and is taking some of their voters away from them. And at the moment, we do not see the leader of the Social Democrats, the Peasants, or the leaders of the Labour Party. What is left? Only Saulius Skvernelis. And he has exploited the situation very well. And by being proactive, he is building up his own ratings <…> In this case, the way we look at it, the situation is that Skvernelis is the only candidate who has the potential, the means, and the initiatives. Still, there is no one to give him a proper response from the opposition forces. If the other opposition parties, the other opposition forces, do not take proactive action – do not take initiatives, do not register bills, amendments and so on. The political analyst adds that they can only do this in parliament, and their circle of supporters may shrink”.

Veryga’s rating is rising

In recent months, the rating of former Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga has also grown rapidly. More people would like to see him as prime minister by almost two and a half percentage points.

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Both Valentinavičius and Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili agree that this is due to his announcement of his candidacy for Kaunas mayor in 2021.

“The very announcement to run and the fact that he is getting more attention from the media and the public space, it is natural that people’s memories were refreshed and they remembered that there is such a politician. Since he himself has become more active in the public space, it is natural that this has contributed to his rating”, says G. Burbulytė-Tsiskarishvili.

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However, they both doubt that Veryga’s rating can be considered significant.

“This is a snapshot of the mood of the electorate”, says Valentinavičius.

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